Scrolling through the parody twitter account @BernieThoughts is a little bit like having an intimate one-on-one exchange with Bernie Sanders. Only instead of him griping about the middle class and the 1%, he’s debating suspicious-looking vegetables, the uselessness of belts and the fact that Italy probably needs to stick to just three types of pasta.
“The most common replies I get is: “‘I can’t tell if Bernie is actually tweeting this,’” said Spencer Madsen, the 23-year-old creator of Bernie Thoughts. “As if a presidential candidate would ever tweet: “‘Explain to me carrot juice.’”
It’s midday on a Saturday, and Madsen is sitting cross-legged on a white bedspread in an Airbnb studio he’s rented in Brooklyn. His whole living situation is up in the air now that he’s moved back to New York after a brief stint of living in L.A. “I was lonely there, I didn’t drive,” he recalls. “The idea of living on the beach got a little old.”
And then one night, he began live-tweeting the Democratic debate.
“I started tweeting things from my personal account, things like ‘Bernie Sanders sounds like an angry bagel.’” he says. “That was fun for me because I had been using twitter to tweet about myself and I had gotten really bored of myself.”
The live-tweeting swiftly took on a life of its own, evolving into a separate twitter account, dedicated solely to fake musings from the presidential hopeful. All the tweets are written in caps, a creative decision made after Madsen selected a snap of Sanders, mid-gesticulation, for his account’s picture. “Looking at that photo, he’s just yelling, like he’s disappointed in America.”
Fake Bernie Sanders, he notes, is not particularly grounded in reality. “My Bernie Sanders is easily confused by things that people take for granted like foods, dogs, basic concepts of time, space, physics.”
And, every once and awhile, there’s a dash of Madsen’s Jewish grandmother.
“Sometimes when I have the time to try to pay attention to the syntax of the tweet, I do it.” he says. “My grandma wouldn’t say we’ve been waiting ten minutes to get into this restaurant. She’d be like ‘Ten minutes already we’ve been waiting.’”
Bernie Thoughts now has 75,000 followers and counting, but during the early days, Madsen says, his fan base was mostly conservative reporters. “More recently it’s become more liberal followers which is something I’m happy about. I don’t like the idea of feeding into this idea that Bernie is insane.”
Plus, he’s not trying to be terribly political. “Even though I feel like I am a political person and I support Bernie Sanders, I want the account to be something everyone can enjoy.” he explains. “I can tweet about things like food and it’s a safe subject to explore within this parallel universe Bernie, without getting into upsetting people.”
Madsen tries to get at least one tweet up everyday—but sometimes it can be difficult to keep up. He’s been busy working full-time as a copywriter for Vice’s new TV Channel, VICELAND. “The twitter account is something I do when my hands are freezing and I’m walking to the train, just trying to get out an idea out before I go underground.”
And in some ways, Madsen believes, that’s the way the creative process is supposed to be. “The idea of the poet under the tree is such bullshit.”
The gig has its occasional low points (“I sat through the Republican debate purely for some tweets, that felt like doing my homework, like I really didn’t want to do it”) but the brief moments Madsen does share with his alter-ego, are often the most satisfying of the day.
“It feels good that I do it, it’s like a creative outlet for me.” he explains. “I feel like it’s the best thing that I’m doing right now.”